Knight Purchase Award: Helen Levitt

Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery
June 6, 2009 - October 4, 2009

In 1943, a 30-year-old artist who had been photographing for around five years had her first solo exhibition. It was held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, one of the pinnacles of art world success both then and now. That extraordinary, precocious artist was Helen Levitt, winner of the Akron Art Museum’s 2007 John S. and James L. Knight Purchase Award for Photographic Media. Never a household name, Levitt has always been regarded as "a photographer’s photographer." This exhibition, held 66 years later, comprises pictures from the Akron Art Museum’s collection including works donated by the artist’s colleagues, friends and admirers over the past decade, as well as the recent Knight Award purchases. Levitt’s explanation of her decision to become a photographer, writes critic Adam Gopnik, "is so startlingly simple that it sounds, it must be, sincere. She became a photographer because she wanted to be an artist and couldn’t draw. She was affected by the time [the end of the Great Depression] and tried to photograph ‘conditions.' Then she...realized it was better not to photograph conditions, and she started photographing people." The streets of New York were Levitt’s milieu. She made many of her images in the days before air conditioning and television, when communal and domestic pleasures and dramas were played out on the front stoop, the sidewalk and in the street. Because her images were found rather than posed, she had to be patient and have an intuitive relationship with the camera, an exceptional eye for gesture and composition, and a deep understanding of human behavior. While Levitt photographed New York, her pictures reveal universal truths about human nature and human relationships. Come and see your neighbors and yourself through her lens. This exhibition is organized by the Akron Art Museum and is supported by a generous gift from George and Sue Klein.